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Twelve hours after a three-alarm fire destroyed its South Hall, the Eastern Market building is still smoldering. Firefighters spent the morning and afternoon poking holes in the roof and dousing embers from last night’s blaze.

Scores of neighbors spent the day milling around across the street, grieving for the loss of a landmark. Elementary-school classes were brought to the market to observe firefighters working on the wreckage. One group of children sang an “Eastern Market Song” about the streets they walk to get through the neighborhood.

Reporters swarmed, interviewing anybody and everybody. WJLA-TV Washington Bureau Chief Sam Ford, who lives four blocks from the building, says he heard about the fire from his neighbors while walking near his house this morning.

The patio at Tunnicliffs Tavern, directly across 7th Street SE from the market’s main entrance, was completely packed with customers all afternoon. Lunchgoers watched firefighters work while they ate.

Several of the market’s stall owners were on hand to gauge their losses. “This is our lives,” says Tom Glasgow, owner and operator of the South Hall’s Market Lunch. “I’ve worked at this market since I was 10 years old.”

Press photographers bickered with each other for the privilege of accompanying Glasgow and other vendors as fire department officials escorted them into the building to retrieve what they could from their ruined businesses. The fire department would provide only so many helmets for extra people. At about 2:30 p.m., Glasgow emerged from the market with a large, light-colored safe.

Others were luckier than Glasgow. Susan Jacobs, who teaches weeknight classes in the pottery studio on the north side of the building, says that she discovered “no damage at all” to the studio other than a puddle of water on the floor.